By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

2019 was a year of anticipation.

At the JACCC, the many community meetings and events normally staged in the Garden Room were put on hold for the year as construction was underway on a new culinary center.

The Toshizo Watanabe Culinary Cultural Center will bring an emphasis on the delectable varieties of Japanese and Japanese American food. It’s fitting that Los Angeles, one of the true culinary hubs of the world, should have a downtown center focused on Japanese cuisine, not far from where the California roll was invented at Tokyo Kaikan.

On Los Angeles Street, passersby could see a gymnasium rise, beam by beam, carrying the hopes and aspirations of the JA community that go back decades. Terasaki Budokan may be the most highly anticipated facility to open in J-Town since the era of community redevelopment. Ryan Lee and his team have a lot riding on the opening of the Budokan, and they have an entire community rooting for them.

On First Street, Go For Broke National Education Center secured a lease to at long last plan for a permanent headquarters, as well as housing for veterans. The parcel of land at First Street North is one of the last undeveloped sites in Little Tokyo, and the lease gives renewed hope that it will be developed in a way that pays tribute to the Japanese American veterans of World War II.

A construction site at Central and First streets for the Regional Connector rail project continues to move towards a 2022 completion date. Traffic closures and the headaches they bring are still an ongoing challenge.

The ongoing theme in Little Tokyo for the past decade has been and remains “Under Construction.”

The same is true across the Pacific as well.

Rendering of the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

In Tokyo, the payoff for a frenzy of construction will be the lighting of the Olympic torch at a new stadium in Kasumigaoka, Shinjuku on July 24. Amidst all the excitement, some will reflect on the legacy of Fred Wada, a Nisei, who is credited with helping bring the games to Japan in 1964.

It seems fitting to consider Wada’s legacy in 2020. During his life, this JA leader had a role in shaping two major initiatives that continue to resonate: Keiro Senior Healthcare and the Tokyo Games.

Japanese and Japanese Americans are grappling with how to deal with an aging population. Looking back at the last decade, the sale of Keiro and the schism that ruptured the community is a lingering issue.

The challenge of the next decade may be best described by a word introduced into the Little Tokyo lexicon back in 2013: sustainability. Back then Sustainable Little Tokyo workshops were held to envision what sustainable redevelopment would look like. Those initial meetings have spurred innovative programs such as bokashi composting and filled the JACCC Plaza with the sounds of West African and taiko drums at FandangObon.

The Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund, which received the go-ahead from the state to start raising money this year, is another form of sustainability. Buying property in this historic neighborhood ensures a level of community control and investment that could have long-reaching implications for culturally significant mom-and-pop businesses. What would J-Town be without businesses like Fugetsu-do, Rafu Bussan and yes, Rafu Shimpo?

Rendering of the completed Terasaki Budokan in Little Tokyo.

Issei and Nisei like Fred Wada built the Japanese American community; it is up to us now to sustain it and ensure that it is here for the next generations. Sustaining our institutions, our volunteers, our spirits in a time of rancorous discord is a necessary task we take to every day.

This year, I’ve felt a sadness in the poignant farewell of those stalwarts of the Japanese American Korean War Veterans. Noble soldiers like Min Tonai, Sam Shimoguchi and Victor Muraoka have done much to build the community, and they have used this year to say it is their time to fade away as an organization.

But I’m also heartened that these years have seen the rise of Kizuna and a young generation of entrepreneurs like Darin Maki, Roy Kuroyanagi and Michelle Hanabusa, returning to J-Town and bringing their skills and social networks to create new business and in doing so create community.

It is something to mark the passage of time and realize that there are new leaders who were mere kids when I first walked through the doors of The Rafu Shimpo nearly 20 years ago. There comes a time when we all must pass the baton to others.

The new year is always a moment of reflection and anticipation. At the beginning of 2020, we are all at the starting line for what comes next.

Ready, set, go!

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